I just returned from the First Annual Indiana Faith and Writing Conference (#IFWC2014) and it was, in a word, AWESOME. If you are anywhere in the midwestern US (or even if you aren’t), you’ll want to put this one on your schedule for next year.
Held on the campus of Anderson University in Anderson, Indiana, IFWC gave attendees the opportunity to sit under the tutelage of some of Christian publishing’s best known authors, agents and publishers. We also had an opportunity to learn from bloggers and social media experts, tax experts and pastors.
How’s this for an impressive list?
While conference attendance was smaller than some I have attended, Anderson University faculty and staff put on a very nice event and I expect it will continue to grow for several years to come.
Now if I can just figure out what the whole ### thing means…
One of my favorite internet subscriptions is to DAILY WRITING TIPS. I signed up for the e-mail version over a year ago, and have loved it. Today’s post is a good example of why I so appreciate this daily writing lesson. Being from Indiana, where the English language seems to be, shall we say, a work in progress, today’s tip was especially useful. (Since I’m promoting his site, I hope creator Mark Nichol doesn’t mind that I repost this one entry.) Be certain to visit his site and get your own subscription – he’ll even send you a free basic English grammar e-book!
Here was today’s tip:
Is That Even a Word?
No authoritarian authority exists that determines whether a given word is valid or bogus. In any language, there’s a complex and imperfect vetting procedure; at least in English, most serious writers agree on the correct or preferred form of a word that is one of two or more variants or on whether a word is acceptable at all. Here’s a list of words that have been under scrutiny in this approval process:
1. Administrate: A back-formation of administration and an unnecessary extension of administer
2. Commentate: A back-formation of commentator and an unnecessary extension of comment
3. Dimunition: Erroneous; the correct form is diminution (think of diminutive)
4. Exploitive: A younger, acceptable variant of exploitative
5. Firstly: As with secondly and thirdly, erroneous when enumerating points; use first and so on
6. Heighth: Rarely appears in print, but a frequent error in spoken discourse (Why isn’t height modeled on the form of depth, length, and width? Because it doesn’t shift in spelling and pronunciation from its associated term, tall, like the others, which are derived from deep, long, and wide, do. Neither do we say or write weighth.)
7. Irregardless: An unnecessary extension of regardless on the analogy of irrespective but ignoring that regardless, though it is not an antonym of regard, already has an antonymic affix
8. Miniscule: A common variant of minuscule, but widely considered erroneous
9. Orientate: A back-formation of orientation and an unnecessary extension of orient
10. Participator: Erroneous; the correct form is participant
11. Preventative: A common and acceptable variant of preventive
12. Societal: A variant of social with a distinct connotation (for example, “social occasion,” but “societal trends”)
13. Supposably: An erroneous variant of supposedly
14. ’Til: Also rendered til and till, an clipped form of until that is correct but informal English; use the full word except in colloquial usage
15. Undoubtably: An erroneous variant of undoubtedly
They say writing is a journey. And it is…on so many levels. There is the journey of telling a story from start to finish, and going from thinking you’d like to write a book to becoming a published author. There’s the journey that writing takes you on as a person, a journey to find the “real you.” And all of those are important and a big part of writing. But for me, the best journey of all is the one my stories take me on. The journey I travel as I write and get to visit foreign lands and ancient times and future worlds. The journey that I set off on every time I sit down to write or come back later to read what I’ve written. I love to write novels because I get to go on the same journey as a writer that I go on when I read a good book. The only difference – and it’s a big one – is that I get to decided where the journey will take me next. And that’s the best part of all.
As I sat at my computer going over a manuscript, I found myself not wanting to cut any of the words that I had so painstakingly written down earlier. The problem was, I NEEDED to cut some words. The story was dragging and the plot was about to founder, and if I didn’t cut something out so that I could take the story on a slightly different route, the ship–er, story–was going to sink.
The thing I had to remind myself was that not all of my words were important. Some carried the plot aloft, others dropped it flat. If they weren’t good lines, or were just fillers, then let them be axed.
That got me thinking about the Bible. About how God has no extra words–no fillers–in his word to us. In Mathew it says, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
As I struggle to come up with just the right words for my stories, I need to remember that God already gave me just the right Word.
For many years,the saddest movie moment I had ever seen was the end of Phantom of the Opera (starring Gerard Butler, Patrick Wilson and Emmy Rossum)when Raul floats Christine away and the Phantom is left alone. That was until I saw the last episode (#4) of North and South, the BBC production of the Elizabeth Gaskell novel starring Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe. Margaret Hale is about to leave Milton forever, and as proud but lovestricken John Thornton stands on the platform watching her get into the coach, he utters to himself “Look back. Look back at me.” She does not. See the clip in the link on the left (third one down). I HIGHLY recommend this film.
I was going to entitle this blog blurb “It is finished.” Not wanting to sound heretical for using scripture totally out of context, however, I thought again.
What is finished? My novel. Actually, my second novel. The first one was finished a couple of years ago, but I had no idea what I was doing and, frankly, it needs a lot of work. I went on from there to educate myself, hang out with some really cool (and accomlished) writer folks, and read much more widely. What I found out is that there really IS a writer hiding in my closet, and I really CAN do this.
Now if I can only convince an agent or publisher of this!
I have a third novel waiting in the wings (actually, it is already more than half completed), and after a short break (to read some books I have been dying to get to), I’ll tackle that one.
Of course, there are sequels to all three novels hiding in my brain, but first things first…
In case anyone (all three of you) is interested, I discovered the little PC software program called “yWriter” and highly recommend it. I still don’t use it to do the actual wordprocessing of my books, but it has proved a valuable tool for organzing thoughts, scenes, characters, special props, etc. Check it out on the link at the left.
Since it didn’t win the contest I entered it in, I thought I’d post one of my short stories here. If you like it (or maybe don’t), please sign up to be a follower and leave a comment! P.S. Audra calls this a “creeper” story.
Essence of Angel
The lights went out with a sizzle as each candle was snuffed between wet thumb and finger. He preferred the softer light of candles to the glare of electric lights. He hadn’t been home long; he’d ridden the subway longer than usual, looking, watching, waiting for an angel. Now it was nearly daybreak.
He dropped his clothes to the floor and crawled between the sheets, hoping he would dream about the beautiful woman he’d seen earlier. Not that she’d noticed him. Women like her couldn’t even see guys like him. He was homely. Ugly, even. He’d accepted the fact in his youth. If girls noticed him at all, it was to snicker behind his back. Women still didn’t consider him worthy, but they loved his paintings, loved for him to point out their beauty to the world. That paid the bills, but his real passion was his angels.
Early the next morning he sat beneath yellowing light coming through plastic skylights. He hunched over his studio table, hands deftly working soft clay, willing it to take the shape he saw so clearly in his mind. He smiled. The wooden pick moved fluidly in his fingers as he detailed the figure of an angel. Her torso, wrapped in an exquisite flowing gown, showed just a peek of tiny toes. Her delicate arms extended forward, as though reaching for a loved one. They seemed almost to float out from her body. Each ended with dainty hands, intricate even to the wrinkles of each knuckle and half moon fingernails.
Her wings measured as long as she was tall. Swept back as if she were about to take flight, they were layered with finely etched feathers. This was one thing the critics liked about his work: the details. That, and a quality in the firing and glaze that they “couldn’t put their fingers on,” one critic had written. He smiled again, knowing the secret was “essence.”
A wavy mane of hair trailed behind her, buoyed by an imaginary breeze. A little tendril curled forward across her breast. With a last touch of tongue to finger, he smoothed the surface of her featureless face and leaned back. She was nearly done. All that she lacked was a spirit. The face of a special woman set free in his figurine. Until then, this angel would wait in the air-tight cabinet. Perhaps it would get a soul today. He hoped so.
Several hours later he was riding the subway, looking for the soul of an angel, and he’d found one. She was probably only twenty, and perfect. He knew well the tortured life she must have endured, for she was like him: ugly, invisible. For fifteen minutes he’d been sketching her likeness and, in all that time, not one person on the train had seemed to notice her. How they could not notice her, though, he couldn’t figure. Everything about her was calling to him.
Over-sized eyebrows sat like fatted caterpillars above mouse-gray eyes. Her hooked nose reminded him of a parrot. It was only three-quarters of an inch at its widest. While most people’s lips sat a comfortable finger-width below the nose, hers was jammed up underneath the base of her nasal septum the way a canoe would beach against a tree.
What really caught his attention, though, was her mouth. Though of average fullness, and painted with entirely too much plum-colored lipstick, their width was startling. In Art 101 they had taught him that lips should extend as far as the outer edges of the irises of the eyes. This angel’s mouth extended fully to the outer edges of her eyes. Yes. She was perfect.
“Hi.” Her large lips parted in a nervous smile, then she returned her bird nose to her book.
“Excuse me, M’am?” He held the drawing close to his chest.
She looked up again. “Yes?”
“I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve drawn you. I mean, I’ve drawn your face.” He turned the drawing around and held it up to show her. This was one of his favorite moments, seeing the look on their face.
“Oh, my. It…it’s really…beautiful.” Her large jammed-up mouth hung open.
He stood and switched to a seat beside her. “I’m glad you like it. I hope you don’t mind that I drew you without asking first.”
“But it’s not…I mean, I’m not pretty, not like in your drawing.”
“Hasn’t anyone ever told you that it’s what’s inside that matters, not what you see in the mirror?”
She looked at him askance. “Who are you, and why did you draw me?”
“I’m Gabe.” He hastily rubbed pencil smudges off of his fingertips onto his jeans and stuck his hand out.
“Trish.” She hesitated for a moment, then took his hand weakly. “How’d you do that? How’d you draw it to look like me, but not be…not look like me?”
He chuckled and smiled with a mouthful of crooked teeth. “It’s easy. I just drew your essence. Your spirit. It doesn’t matter what’s on the outside.”
She turned slightly toward him and studied his face. “You’re about the only person I’ve ever met who can bear to look at me.” She looked away again.
“I wonder if you’d mind helping me with a piece in my studio. It’s not quite right. I’d like to give it your essence.”
“Yeah, you know, your essence. I’d like to preserve your essence in my sculpture.”
“Me? Are you kidding?”
“I wasn’t kidding when I drew that sketch.”
She looked uncertain about how to answer.
“Come on. If you like the drawing, think how you’ll look as a sculpture.” He winked at her. “Better decide quickly. I get off in two stops.”
“Oh, okay. Sure. You can capture my ‘essence,’ or whatever you call it.” She smiled and blushed.
Fifteen minutes later they were standing in a nearly empty warehouse. “Well, this is it. This is my kiln. I built it myself.” He waved a hand toward the brick monstrosity occupying the center of the warehouse.
She turned her palms toward the heat. “Mmm, it’s warm and smells good. How can you burn wood in the city?”
He laughed. “Did you look at my neighborhood? Between the rail yard, pallet factory, and ship docks, my smokesack isn’t even noticeable. Besides, my secret firing process adds a…different quality to the smoke. Come over here.” He patted a stool next to his work table. “Sit here. I need to light a candle to set a gentle mood.”
She set her backpack on the floor, suddenly looking self conscious as she settled on the paint-stained barstool. “This is kind of exciting.”
He flipped a switch and plunged himself and the angel-in-waiting into darkness, then reached into his pocket for a lighter and lit the candle on the work table. The light was soothing, and he could see her face in soft yellow tones. She looked happy, expectant. He smiled back. Just a few minutes more, angel. From within the airtight cabinet the clay angel was brought to the worktable, and the wooden pic traced the outline of the model’s face onto its blank oval. Before wax ran down the candle, he was finished. The face he’d drawn for the subway angel just an hour ago now rested upon the clay angel. He had transferred her soul; now he would transfer her essence, too.
“You look tense. Before you can see the angel, you need to relax. Here, let me help you. I can’t have my model portraying tension.” He stepped behind her and put his hands on her shoulders, kneading her tense muscles. He rubbed up between her shoulders and the base of her neck.
As his arm slipped casually around her neck she probably thought, briefly, that he was going to hug her. But as his elbow reached just below her chin and the vice grip closed in, cutting off the flow of blood to her brain, she even more briefly must have known she was about to die. She tried to flail her arms and legs, but as with the others, she passed out within seconds.
A moment longer, and she was permanently unconscious. As she went limp, he gathered her up in his arms and laid her out on the worktable. With a tiny knife he sliced the end of her finger and gently squeezed a few precious red drops into a tiny glass bottle of creamy white glaze.
Now came the risky part–putting the clay angel in the kiln. If she didn’t dry slowly, she would be brittle. If it took too long, the priceless glaze would spoil. But he had a secret; a bit of salt and moist fuel eliminated the problem. With practiced steps, he carefully placed the clay angel on a shelf in the kiln, then opened the door to the firebox. He lifted the now lifeless subway angel and set her tortured spirit free.
I have the greatest chair in my home office. It isn’t anything fancy, and it isn’t a well-worn family heirloom. In fact, it’s a giant folding moon chair that I just bought this week. This thing is shaped like a deep saucer (hence the name), and it’s big enough for me to pull both of my feet up into it. That’s something because I’m 5’8″ tall and not the rail I was growing up. I even fell asleep in it today – of course, I’ve been taking a few pills since the surgery….
But sitting in that chair got me to thinking about the shape of my, um, back end. They are both round: my chair and my caboose. So, I’ve decided to tell anyone who reads this that I’m quitting desserts with my daughter. She’s giving them up for lent, a far more noble cause than mine. I simply don’t want to be round back there anymore. And I don’t want to develop diabetes or heart disease or any of the dozens of other ailments that catch up to you while you are sitting around snacking. So tune in to see how it goes – I’ll leave regular progress reports!